Cleo Sol named herself after the sun. The UK singer is a vocalist for the enigmatic collective SAULT, which makes experimental R&B, funk, and disco-inspired music that speaks to the complexity of the Black experience. Over the past few years, she’s also released three balmy neo-soul albums that are in the lineage of Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu and suffused with warm optimism: She sings about following your dreams, finding salvation in love, and honoring a higher purpose. Her music is radiant like a blooming peony, tender like butter left out on the counter. Sol’s latest project, Heaven, explores her usual themes of faith and self-love with a newfound ease and confidence.
The piano-driven pop arrangements of her 2021 album Mother left a lot of room for Sol’s storytelling to take the stage. Heaven is a warmer, funkier, and more sonically diverse album, prioritizing the interplay between slick bass and synth and Sol’s voice as much as the lyrical messaging. Throughout, her falsetto is beautiful, floating over the production like fog drifting across a snow-capped mountain range. On “Go Baby,” she repeats the titular phrase over a meandering piano and gentle backing vocals, turning the directive into a twinkling meditation. And on “Nothing on Me,” Sol luxuriates in a fleet-footed bossa nova groove, occasionally weaving in her voice as a wisp of texture.
Sol’s work cultivates inner joy that she then extends outwards. Released after the birth of her child, Mother was an empathetic project that demonstrated understanding toward her mother while also holding her accountable for the harm she caused. A similar sense of compassion guides Heaven; Sol examines relationships with friends, lovers, herself with sensitivity and care. “Miss Romantic” is a plea to a friend—or perhaps to herself—to stop humoring a man who continues to disrespect her. Sol is firm and direct as she lists the man’s many offenses, but ends the song on a string of sweet affirmations that underscore her deep affection for the other party: “You are brave, you are true, you won’t lose, trust in you” she croons, her voice echoing across a gentle guitar line and squiggly synth.
Throughout the album, Sol keeps her storytelling diffuse and open-ended. On “Golden Child, (Jealous),” a breezy track with bird song and flitting drums, she repeats, “They’re just jealous of your mind/They’re just jealous ‘cause you’re kind,” leaving who “they” are unanswered. She is similarly vague on “Old Friends” as she expresses sadness about a relationship that ended, with lyrics like, “Distance and pain/Made my life feel smaller” and “Years have gone by, tears still stain my pillow/You played games with my emotions.” She always delivers her lines with poise and intention, but sometimes her writing can seem emotionally flat.
Despite a few trite lyrics, there are many transcendent moments on Heaven. Sol is able to pivot between multiple emotional states—gratitude, calm, yearning—within the space of a single vocal run, like on album standout, “Heaven.” Her voice descends from an ethereal falsetto to a lower, golden-toned vibrato like red wine cascading from a glass carafe. The song establishes a mood so engrossing that notes seem to suspend in the air and reverberate around you even after the music stops, its beauty lingering like heat on your skin after a long day in the sun.